15: Rabbi (John 1:35-39)

15: Rabbi (John 1:35-39)

15: Rabbi

The two disciples of John call Jesus “Rabbi.”

“The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.” (John 1:35-39)

A number of people in John’s gospel do the same thing:
• Nathanael: “Nathanael answered him,’Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’” (John 1:49)
• Nicodemus: “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’” (John 3:1-2)
• Jesus’ disciples: “Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, ‘Rabbi, eat.’” (John 4:31) and again in John 6:25, John 9:2 and John 11:8
• Mary Magdalene on seeing the resurrected Jesus in the garden for the first time, uses a version of the title: “Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).” (John 20:16)

For John it was the right title.

In Matthew, Jesus uses “Rabbi” when He makes a point about the teachers of the law wanting everyone to look up to them. The only disciple that calls Jesus “Rabbi” in Matthew’s gospel is Judas when he was betraying him.

Mark, in his gospel, uses the term like John does, as the title that his disciples used of Jesus. Peter calls Jesus “Rabbi” twice, as does Bartimeus and, again, Judas when betraying Him.

Luke does not use the term at all.

The term in itself is no more than a title, a way of addressing someone, like calling a teacher “sir” in school. It means nothing unless the one who speaks it has the right heart. Judas called Jesus “Rabbi” as he kissed him in a terrible act of betrayal. The Jewish teachers wanted to be called Rabbi, but only because of the status it gave them. They used the term, but not with the right heart.

But in John’s gospel, the term is only used by people who really understand it’s true meaning. For The Apostle John it appears to be a term of endearment, something that signifies respect but also warmth.

These two disciples left their mentor, John to follow Jesus. When Jesus saw them, He asked: “what are you seeking?”

That doesn’t at first seem like the right question. Surely it should have been “who are you seeking?” They were after all looking for Jesus Himself, a “who” not a “what”.

But Jesus had this right (as always). They had found the “who” and now they were looking for a “what”.

What is it that they were looking for?

The answer is found in the way they address Him.


Jesus, almost certainly, was not the first person they had called Rabbi. They had been followers of John the Baptist and his disciples called him “Rabbi”.

“Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” (John 3:25-26)

They are now, instantly, calling Jesus by the same title. Whatever they had with John they now want to transfer to Jesus.

Being a disciple with John the Baptist had some good parts and some tough parts. Standing and helping him minister to big crowds who were being touched by the Holy Spirit would have been very exciting. Hearing him preach and having him personally teach them would have been challenging and thrilling at the same time. But they also had to stand with him when he was saying controversial things and risking the wrath of those in authority. Being a disciple of John had it’s risks. They might not have had to eat John’s diet, but they often went without food altogether and obviously lived quite ascetic lifestyles because the Jews noticed the difference with Jesus’s disciples.

“Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” (Matthew 9:14)

Luke makes the distinction even greater:

“And they said to him, ‘The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.’” (Luke 5:33)

Being a disciple of John the Baptist was not an easy ride. They would have had to count the cost and be willing to pay it to have this man as a teacher, leader and mentor. It meant leaving their past behind and giving themselves to following, serving and learning from him. It meant changing their lives for ever.

But they were willing to pay the price of calling John the Baptist “Rabbi” and now a greater than John is here. So, just as they had left their pasts behind to follow John, now they left John behind to follow Jesus.

When Jesus asked them “what are you seeking?” They respond with “where are You staying?”

Just as Jesus got right to the heart of what they were looking for with his response to their question, they got right to the heart of what Jesus was looking for in them, right to the heart of discipleship.

From Genesis 1 God has looked for people who firstly and primarily would be with Him. There was no “ministry” in the garden other than looking after the plants and animals and multiplying to fill the earth. God was perfectly happy with that. Just Him and Adam and Eve together walking in the cool of the evening.

Even after sin, the Holy Spirit identifies the people that had the right heart towards God as those that “walked with God.” When God calls Abraham and the other Patriarchs of Genesis, He calls them to walk with Him. That is the heart of discipleship, a walking with God through each day and sometimes through the watches of the night. Every waking moment an opportunity to fellowship with Him through His Holy Spirit.

The heart of discipleship was most clearly and beautifully expressed in the scriptures by a woman, a Gentile woman who was talking to her Mother in Law.

“But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16-17)

That is the heart of a disciple. She has found something endearingly attractive about Naomi. She wants to go with her, stay with her, be around her. She wants to be friends with her friends and family with her family. But she sees beyond the caring Mother in Law who she has become so closely attached. She knows there is something that makes Naomi special, different from all the others she has grown up with.

She knows it isn’t Naomi’s personality or positive outlook on life (in fact at this point she is quite depressed and despairing). She is not looking to get a part of Naomi’s wealth, she has lost it all. There is something deep in Naomi that, despite all the hardships of life, she has not lost. A light that cannot be put out. That is what Ruth wants and she knows where it comes from.

None of the gods of her own people could ever give her this sort of light in the middle of such pain and hardship. She wanted to be with Naomi, but she really wanted to be with Naomi’s God. So much so that she would die beside her, as long as she died knowing the God that Naomi knew and served.

That is the heart of a disciple. That is why, when Jesus asked these two disciples “what are You seeking?” He knew they weren’t just looking for a one off meeting with Him, they were looking for a life, a journey, with Him. They wanted to “stay” with Him.

We have seen that Greek word for stay “meno” twice in the previous verses.

“And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:32-34)

Can you see the two times the same word is used? In this version the word in these verses is not translated as “stay” but as “remained” and “remain”. It is the Greek word “meno” both times.

The connection wouldn’t have been lost on the early Greek speakers who were reading John’s text.

The Holy Spirit came to Jesus and stayed, remained, with Him. If the Holy Spirit came and stayed on Jesus, then these two disciples wanted to find out where Jesus was staying, because they wanted to stay and remain with Him.

The Holy Spirit found a resting place on Jesus and these disciples wanted to find a resting place with Jesus. We, as followers of Christ find a resting place in Him.

In the next verse, the Greek word “meno” appears twice more.

“He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.” (John 1:39)

Jesus’ answer is wonderful, because He repeats it to all of us who truly want to find out where He is going so that they can be with Him: “Come and you will see.”

“So they went to where He was staying (“meno”) and they stayed (“meno” again) with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.”

Jesus never turns anyone away. He calls us all into this level of intimacy with Him. He call us to make Him our journey’s end.

Jesus wants to be our divine destination.

Jesus wants to be our eternal resting place.

At the heart of every true disciple is a desire to be where their Master is.

And the heart of every true discipler is to nurture that heart in their disciple. Like John the Baptist we look to disciple people out of the world and their sin and self absorption and into Jesus. Our job is never to disciple people into ourselves (although like Paul we for sure should be setting them an example that they can look up to and aspire to) but our goal is to disciple people into Jesus so that they will love Him above all others, walk with Him moment by moment and serve Him all the days of their lives. So that they will “stay” and “remain” with Him where He is, rather than living out their own lives and hoping that Jesus tags along.

All of that is what the disciples meant went they called Jesus “Rabbi”. They meant that they were prepared to give up everything they had, including a close walk with the powerful ministry of John the Baptist, to put themselves under the tutelage of Him who could baptise them not just in water but in the Holy Spirit and fire. It ended up costing them everything, but then and now they would say it was worth every penny.

Note what they say in verse 41 “we have found the Messiah”. Not “John the Baptist showed us the Messiah”, or “The Holy Spirit came on Him when He was baptised and showed us the Messiah”. No it is “we have found”. It’s personal. Everything that they had ever been looking for, all that their hearts desired when they left their ordinary lives to become John’s disciples, they feel that they have now found.

Isn’t that great, when as a leader, or a parent, you pour your life into people, pray, counsel, encourage, rebuke and one day it all comes together. “I have found the Messiah”. That moment when all the knowledge and teaching becomes absolutely personal. The message of this book is that life is found in the Son and that the fulness of life He offers has to do with living in His community, with others. But there has to be that moment of personal revelation, where it all becomes clear for us individually. The blinders come off and our eyes are opened.

Others may have pointed the way and for the moment we are not going to try and help people understand the truth that, in fact, God found us. The important thing is that we get it and it’s deeply personal and we own it for ourselves. “I have found the Messiah!” The best moment of anyone’s life.

When we truly “find” Him, as these disciples did, we are ready to give up everything to be with Him, just like they did. It is a price that doesn’t seem like a cost at the time for the worth of the pearl of great price we have just found.

When Peter said to Jesus “See, we have left everything and followed you.” (Matthew 19:27) he was speaking for all of them. That was what it meant to be a true disciple in those days. It still does.

We never find the disciples ever calling Jesus by His first name in the gospels. Maybe they did in their everyday interactions, but in all the recorded dialogue we have between the disciples and Jesus they only call Him by titles: ‘Master”, “Lord” and, in John’s gospel “Rabbi”.

These were not formal names for a formal education from a highly qualified instructor.

These were simple realities for a group of men and women who had found in Jesus all that they had ever looked for and they were prepared to lay everything else aside to lay hold of that treasure.

When they called Him “Rabbi” it meant something that maybe some of us, in our generation of Christians, would do well to recapture.

Posted on: May 24, 2018Peter Todd

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *